Friday, April 26, 2024

A Last Visit with Old Friends - Perhaps

Heading into a weekend at the beginning of February, 2024, snow was forecast for Friday night into Saturday morning. I had such a rough week at work that I was looking forward to sleeping late Saturday and Sunday. Cemeteries in the snow is an adventure I normally look forward to; however, I was pooped.

I woke up at 8 a.m. Saturday (slept over two hours later than usual!), looked outside, and saw that about three inches of snow had fallen. It was still snowing. Do I venture out? Adventure calls. What the hey. I felt up to it. My wife and daughter wouldn’t even be awake for hours, so I decided to head out. Cemetery of choice? Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, PA. This is about ten miles west of where I live in Philadelphia, just outside its border where Delaware County begins. Holy Cross is the first cemetery I every photographed in, back in the late 1990s. I used to live nearby. It’s a good choice in the snow for a few reasons:

  • Many, many sculptures, statues, and other structures low to the ground. Interesting to photograph normally, even more interesting covered in snow.
  • The terrain is FLAT! However, even with a front- or four-wheel drive vehicle, icy hills are not your friend!
  • The cemetery is very large, with many trees. Plenty of areas for wildlife, e.g. deer and fox. (Other than geese, most of the wildlife was hidden during my visit).

Once I got to Holy Cross, it was still snowing lightly, with a six-inch layer of the fluffy stuff on everything. I drove to a few of my usual favorite spots, alternating between my iPhone, Holga (120 mm film), and DSLR to capture certain images. While it is true what they say – the right kind of camera is the one you have with you, I do prefer the flexibility. For instance, there's no way I could simulate a tintype image like the one at right without the Hipstamatic tintype ap on my iPhone.

I drove around the icy roads in my old RAV4 – stopping often to step out into the snow to photograph something or other. Since I fell on the ice this winter and hurt my shoulder, and my left hip is shot (surgery scheduled for April 29, 2024), I have become rather adroit when it comes to safety in the snow and ice. Which of course means that currently, I am rather limited in my hiking and trudging abilities. After the hip replacement (well, after the oxycontin wears off), I have already planned two cemetery adventures with friends. I may even take up parkour in the more densely-monumented cemeteries. (Not.)

It dawned on me during my peregrinations that I was visiting some old friends, statues I had photographed many times throughout the past twenty years. After photographing a few new scenes and some old ones, I turned around and saw this pillared angel, one that I had photographed countless times. In fact, it was the first cemetery angel that caught my eye, ever, back in the film photography days of the late 1990s. It looks uncannily the same, down to the missing arm and weird horizontal lash marks.

Which is more than I can say for the other statues I subsequently photographed. Weathering has caused loss of detail, lichens have darkened faces. Cemetery statues age just as humans do, but show their age more slowly. Even this Victorian-era marble statue of a young girl has deteriorated under her protective metal and glass. Or maybe, because of the metal and glass.

The veiled face of this soul emerging from its coffin has lost what little detail its winding sheet suggested. The diaphanous, sensual angel below has become darkened with interminable age and grime. The pure snow, which can give a squalid scene a fresh, clean, heavenly appearance, simply accentuates her age, these many years later. Or maybe to me, it just gives her a Dorian Gray-like appearance.

But these are old friends. I shouldn’t be critical. The hooded bronze figure above and the green patina Virgin Mary are ageless, and the snow allows them to be photographed with less distraction in the background. I didn’t want to turn my head on the bronze BVM below while she was holding that snowball. After shooting three statues in various areas, I intentionally drove to a few more of my past haunts. None ever disappoints. Statues erode and change with time, yet are always interesting. A blanket of fresh snow brings out new personalities in the sculpture and statuary.

As I was writing this, I realized I had neglected one of my oldest friends. Such is the plethora of artwork here at Holy Cross, that it is easy to miss a few. choice beings The image below of the mourning woman is from a few winters ago. She's always interesting, as is the entire monument. But you'll just have to visit to see it. I added a bit red to the snow, just because.

My cold winter trek only lasted an hour or so, and oddly took on the purpose of visiting these statues almost for the sake of just VISITING them, rather than looking for artistic, photographic opportunities. It was snowing lightly as I left my old haunt, my old friends, in Holy Cross. I remember thinking the snow would soon be gone, as would I. Not forever, though, hopefully. This is the last blog I’ll post before going under anesthesia and the knife, to have my hip replaced. I’m assuming I’ll wake up and write again, but if not, I promise to come back and haunt you all. Peace out.